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The noble Lord, Lord Warner, remarked earlier that health is a devolved matter. Yes, he is right to say that, but it cannot be an entirely devolved matter or else Clause 46 and all the Welsh provisions would have no part in this Bill. Westminster still has primary legislative responsibility for health matters in Wales. On that basis, I can only repeat that I believe it is totally unnecessary to have different standards operating on each side of the border.
I believe that different national service frameworks apply in Wales for diabetes, heart disease and children's services. There can be no sense in that. This is not to criticise the competence of the Assembly or what is set out in those national service frameworks; it is simply to say that standard setting by the Assembly is needlessly confusing and a duplication of effort. As I said earlier, the Assembly has the right to determine priorities for healthcare in Wales, but that is quite different from saying that the standards by which care is delivered have to be different from those in force in England. Everyone should agree what are the standards and one body should be tasked with monitoring them.
If one pursues this, different standards presuppose different treatments. If that is so, one must ask: to what purpose? Heart disease is still heart disease wherever it occurs. Diabetes is still diabetes. Yet it is perfectly possible to imagine the treatment of choice for a particular condition being different depending on which side of the border a patient is being looked after and which national service framework is in force. That cannot be a sensible result of devolution; it has to be just plain crackers.
The issue will come into starkest focus in hospitals located near the border, as we have just debated. In hospitals such as the Countess of Chester Hospital in Chester, doctors may find that they have to administer one type of treatment to an English patient and another type to a Welsh patient suffering from exactly the same condition. How is the performance of those doctors then to be assessed? Either we will have duplicated inspections of those hospitals by CHAI and then again by Welsh inspectors, which would be crazyI hope that that will not happenor we will have CHAI tasked with inspecting the treatment of Welsh patients as well as English, but doing so, in the case of the Welsh patients, against benchmarks to which it does not subscribe. That again would be crazy. All we are doing here is tying ourselves up in knots.
It is not enough merely to hope that the standards on either side of the border will marry up with each other, as the Government appear to be doing. What the Bill proposes is manifestly not in the interests of patients.
Baroness Barker: My noble friend Lord Clement-Jones has also put his name to the Question whether Clause 46 should stand part of the Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, said that he approaches this matter from the standpoint of the patient. I think perhaps that he approaches it from the standpoint of the English patient. As I listened to his words, I became less convinced of his arguments, although I agree that the clause is worth debating, as is the preceding clause.
Noble Lords on these Benches have the same concerns about standards being set by the Assembly, but only on the basis that we have expressed concerns about standards being set by the Secretary of State. I believe that it is entirely possible to approach this from the standpoint that there may be healthcare needs in Wales which are different from those in England and which may then lead to the development of different standards.
For example, there is a high prevalence of pneumoconiosis in certain areas of Wales. Therefore, while it is entirely reasonable to accept that common standards can be set for some conditions, to which people living on both sides of the border may subscribe, how those standards are implemented may well differ on a national basis. We are concerned whether Clause 46 does in fact give the Assembly the freedom it needs to achieve standards in a different fashion.
Earl Howe: Will the noble Baroness allow me to intervene? I think that she is confusing standards with the criteria of treatment. Standards should be standards, wherever they are set. If someone suffers from pneumoconiosis in England, they should be treated to the same standard as if they suffered from the condition in Wales. The criteria may well differ on either side of the border.
Baroness Barker: I would cite the example of Northern Ireland, where they are attempting to achieve the same standards of healthcare but are going about it in a completely different way with money that they have been awarded by the Government. If they can achieve the same standards in a different way, that is a legitimate thing to do. But there may be conditions in Wales which require different standardswhich is also a legitimate concernand that is one of the freedoms that we would wish to see before the Assembly.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I differ with the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and agree with the noble Earl, Lord Howe. Standards are standards and implementation criteria are the way in which you achieve those standards.
I intervene briefly to raise an issue which, I fear, I have raised slightly tangentially before. It is a matter about which I am still uneasy. I refer to the issue of specialist care. I again cite the example I know best of children who suffer from single ventricle conditions. An organisation called Little Hearts Matter is working to ensure that children in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England receive the same standards of care.
I am referring to very specialist care. If a child does not receive the exact care he or she will simply die. I know about that condition but I am sure that there are examples in the treatment of cancer where patients need a particular specialist care and for the same standards to apply wherever they are. Can the Minister reassure me about such standards?
I met the family of a child who was ill in Wales. It took two hospitals to diagnose that the child was suffering from a single ventricle disorder before the child was transferred to a specialist hospital in England, where the correct treatment was received. A child in England went straight to that hospital. Luckily, both survivedbut the chances of the second child were far higher than the chances of the first.
Diagnosis standards and standards of treatment need to be the same, although the way in which we reach those standards may be different. I want to be absolutely sure that the treatment of specialist conditions will have standards clearly set wherever it may be in the United Kingdom.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: As someone who is practising in Wales I have been involved in these discussions from both sides. I hope that what I say may add a little clarification because I believe that there is not as big a difference between everyone as there would appear to be at the moment.
As I understand it, the Assembly has no problem at all with the thematic standards for specialist services and children being treated equitably. Unfortunately, if a diagnostic delay occurs in one hospital, or a diagnostic delay occurs in a hospital in England, it could be due to 100 different reasons that may have nothing to do with the standards specifically set.
There are standards and, yes, there are absolute standardsand those standards should be reached everywhere. But there are additional issues in relation to the delivery of standards in Wales. It is very important that we involve local clinicians in the generation and the wording of the standards in order to take them along with the improvements to be instigated. We need to ensure that they have ownership of the standards as they apply to Wales, and that they are not perceived as standards written by the Secretary of State in England and catapulted into Wales. That certainly would not be accepted by the professionals who have to enact the standards. Minimum standards have to be emblazoned on their consciousness at all times to ensure that they are met.
It is with a fair degree of shame that I have to admit that in parts of Wales there is a lot of work to be done. We have very specific recruitment and retention issues in some parts of Wales. We have some problems that relate to the history of the health services in Wales. We also have problems that relate to the industrial history of the population of Wales, which have not applied in the same way, by and large, to the population in England. The percentages and the numbers affected are very different. It has been my understanding that there is no wish to lower the standards in Wales but there is a recognition of a gap that needs to be driven up, and the professionals have to go with it.
I do not think people are that far apart. The Assembly is only too aware of the need to drive up the minimum standards, which it has been attempting to do.
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